Voyage Re-enacts Dinosaur Expedition of 1910

For the last eight years Palaeontology Technician Darren Tanke (Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada) has pursued a dream of re-enacting Barnum Brown’s historic 1910 dinosaur expedition on Alberta’s Red Deer River.  His work and that of many other volunteers becomes a reality on June 29th as the scow called Peter C. Kaisen is to be formerly launched on the river at the city of Red Deer.

In 1910, Barnum Brown , the newly appointed Associate Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History (New York), along with technical assistant Peter C. Kaisen (after whom the new scow is named), and other collectors, spent the first of four seasons floating down the Red Deer scouring its banks and the surrounding area for dinosaur skeletons and bone beds.

A Spirit of Adventure

Barnum Brown, has been called “the greatest dinosaur hunter of the 20th century”.  Perhaps most famous for his discoveries of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, casts of which were on display at the Natural History museum in London until recently, he is strongly associated with the exploration of the Red Deer River area.  From 1910, Brown recovered a spectacular variety of fossils, including almost complete dinosaur skeletons from this part of Canada.  In total, Brown and his team excavated material representing 36 species of dinosaur and a further 84 species of other vertebrates.

Alberta in the early part of the 20th century had limited railway lines and very few roads.  The deep valley of the Red Deer was only accessible by water.  For his expedition, Brown used a specially designed scow – a flat  bottomed, flat decked, floating camp.  It was equipped with a large tent and a wood-burning stove.  It was used as living accommodation and for transportation of up to 10 tons of field equipment and specimens that the explorers picked up along the way.


The pictures show the American Museum scow called “Mary Jane” in 1911.  It is from studying the photographs and records made at the time, that Darren and his team have been able to reconstruct the scow.  In the picture, the expedition’s  cook Fred Saunders can be seen on the left, with Barnum Brown on the right.  If viewers look carefully to the right of Barnum Brown (his left) a black cat standing on a shelf attached to the two upright tiller support posts can be seen.  A cat accompanied the original explorers to control mice, however, Darren Tanke and his colleagues will not have a cat on their voyage for “fear of losing it along the way”.

Fascinated by Brown’s voyages and motivated by a desire to raise awareness of Alberta’s dinosaur-hunting history, Darren Tanke and other volunteers will spend five weeks on the Red Deer River.  They will explore the banks and the surrounding badlands and have high expectations of what thy may find.

Commenting on his hopes for the expedition, Tanke stated:

“It’s been many years since an expedition systematically surveyed the Badlands along much of the river.  In that time rain, melt water and wind have eroded the valley formations and we hope to map several promising locations for future digs.”

Five-Week Expedition

The five-week trip begins on June 29th with the launch and will end at the Dinosaur Provincial Park on August 7th.  This coincides with the town of Brooks centennial and a celebration is planned at the park to coincide with the arrival of the scow.

Tanke commented:

“The project started about eight years ago, when I started looking for and buying artifacts or replicas to equip a reconstructed scow”.

Darren hopes to relive the little known past of Alberta’s palaeontological heritage and to share it with others, he went onto add:

“I think the best way to truly understand what our palaeontological forefathers went through is to live, as closely as possible, the same way the did on the early fossil hunting expeditions.”

The Magnificent Scow

The magnificent scow and its rowing boat were built by carpenter Perry Schopff of Munson, (Alberta).  Schopff and Tanke have both worked for many years at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, though they are working on this centennial project in their spare time.  The Peter C. Kaisen measures 30 feet long by 12 feet wide and has a height of just 18 inches.  Few details of the vessel used on Brown’s 1910 trip were available so Schopff worked from some rare photographs taken of the 1912 expedition to help him re-create the craft.  Some modern safety features have been added such as compartmentalised sections, sections filled with foam and metal flashing on the underwater corners.

Tanke and some of the scow’s crew will on occasion dress according to clothes of the day and the boat’s tools, tent and stove are typical of those of the period.  For the last eight years, Tanke has scoured antique and second-hand shops for period tools and equipment.  He has even gone as far as researching cookbooks and recipes to replicate the meals the explorers ate as they drifted down the Red Deer.

This project is funded by Darren Tanke, expedition participants, interested members of the public and the Calgary-based Dinosaur Research Institute The Dinosaur Research Institute.

The Dinosaur Research Institute has played a large supportive role as a fund-raiser to promote historic awareness and scientific aspects of this unique and exciting project.

The Start of the Expedition

Hauling of the scow to its Red Deer River launch point (11am to 1pm on June 29th) is being done by Dan’s Oilfield Services with funding assistance from Cliff’s Oilfield Hauling.  Both these firms operate in Drumheller.

For us at Everything Dinosaur, (especially the lucky ones amongst us who have had the pleasure of working in Alberta), we would like to congratulate Darren and his team for putting together such an imaginative and worthwhile project.  We wish them every success on their voyage and we look forward to reporting their progress.

The very best of luck to you all.

Visit Everything Dinosaur’s website: Everything Dinosaur.

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